Is This A Room?--More like, Is This a "Play?"
By Joseph Cervelli
Perhaps, the question we should be asking about "Is This A Room" at the Vineyard Theatre is "is this a play?" Based on word for word FBI transcripts it tells about the interrogation of Reality Winner (Emily Davis) who was a former Air Force linguist and worked for the NSA is accused of removing classified material from the office and leaking it to the news media. The information dealt with the Russian interference in the 2016 election. You would think this would make for riveting, edge of your seat theater, but I kept thinking while watching of the famous line from the old "Dragnet" series "Just the facts, ma'am." It certainly is an interesting and sometimes fascinating work but feels like a rough draft. I kept thinking,"why isn't there a second act?"
The play is staged in a kind of static manner by Tina Satter. She has her actors speaking in a kind of staccato fashion and you keep thinking you are listening to the actual tapes. You might think this makes it more authentic thought I kept thinking then why am I sitting at the theater when they might be accessible to listen to. Pete Simpson portrays Agent Garrick who speaks like the most inexperienced agent imaginable. He stumbles in his speech (not the fault of the actor) and there were moments you almost laugh at his inept statements he makes towards Reality. He along with Agent Taylor (TL Thompson) interrogate her at her home back in 2017. Reality is a cross fit and yoga trainer and seems confounded by all of this until you gather she indeed release the documents. There is also another character known as the Unknown Male (Becca Blackwell) although not sure why that the character is listed as such when FBI is on the jacket he is wearing. I use the term "he" although "they" might be a better term because Blackwell is "existing between genders" and prefers the term "they." Davis is quite good as Winner although she tends to speak very rapidly probably keeping up with her character's nervous nature.
Satter also has directed with some distracting touches (no need for the row of seats on other side of the platform stage designed by Parker Lutz) and having the unnamed agent roaming around her house and removing her dog (a stuffed animal that greets you as you enter the theatre) and a stuffed black cat are unnecessary features. Also, there is little need during one interrogation scene for the lights to keep going on and off as to indicate a change time. More annoying than atmospheric.
It is such an intriguing story that you want to read about her life when you leave the theater. Yet, as a stage play it falls completely flat far from as compelling as it should be because you are only seeing the first interrogation. It ends so abruptly that I honestly thought there might be a talkback or, perhaps, an announcement of a sequel to the play. Having a sheet on a table when you leave the theater where you can read more about her is far from sufficient.
Tickets are available at the Vineyard Theater 108 East 15th Street.
PHOTOS: CAROL ROSEGG